The English Garden magazine

In a treasured old copy of The English Garden magazine I re-visited recently, Helen Gunn wrote:

There is a general feeling, mostly unspoken, that English names are low brow and folksy. Latin implies education and expert knowledge, no matter if it also sounds affected.

She doesn’t deny that it is sometimes very useful to have a precise Latin name by which to identify a particular plant – for example, when you’re trying to determine what is hardy in your gardening zone, and what is a look-alike but more tender variety – but she does regret the fading-away of more colourful traditional plant names.

And who would not? Romance and whimsy abound in the folksy old plant names like kiss-at-the-wicket, leopard’s bane, love-lies-bleeding, wake robin and Oswego tea.

In fact, as Gunn says –

There is such poetry in the English names that it seems an impoverishment of our literary heritage to lose them.

I would rather think that I was growing sweet sultan than centaurea or bishop’s hat than the dreary epimedium.

Hear, hear!

Herbaceous border at Croft Castle Garden, UK

Helen Gunn goes on to suggest that we might bring back some of the really old names for flowering plants and, for example, refer to gladioli as corn flags or go back to calling nasturtiums the far more lyrical lark’s heels.

I’m reminded here that the massively tall white-flowering dark-leafed plant I love is called snakeroot around here. Of course we are quite capable of identifying it “properly” as cimicifuga if forced to do so.   Oh, but didn’t I read somewhere that the garden gurus have started changing the Latin names around? So now cimicifuga is supposed to be called by another name entirely, Actaea if I recall… Well, I shall simply go on with snakeroot for mine.

Give me the colorful old traditional folk names for my garden plants any day!

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